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Plugged In

ptong's picture

“Plugged In” is a book about the growing epidemic called video game addiction (VGA). The author, Terry R. Waite, discusses the psychological and physiological behaviors that are exhibited by video game addicts. The book is unique because the author gives a first hand experience of how VGA had affected him in the past. He acknowledges the fact that he was once an addict, and he gives personal accounts of his VGA and the effects it had on him and his family. This aspect really caught my attention because his personal involvement made him seem truly committed to helping fellow gamers. He also cites news involving VGA to inform the reader of the real life consequences of VGA. For example he mentions a boy chasing his sister with a knife because she turned off the computer while he was playing a game and the 10 Koreans who died of heart failure at a cyber café because they had been playing online for 50 hours straight. Although these are extreme cases, there are other common side effects such as irritability, exhaustion, and depression.

One of the most useful features in the book is its self-diagnose exam. It is a questionnaire asking one’s past experience with video games and based on the answers there is an “Outpatient Maintenance Schedule” that informs one what to do to overcome the different levels of VGA. Although I feel that the point system used to evaluate a person’s VGA is questionable, it makes one realize very quickly whether they have potential risks of being addicted. As I took this questionnaire, I began to contemplate my history of playing video games. It made me think of all the hours I had spent playing video games instead of going to the movies or going out to play tennis with friends. It enabled me to evaluate myself without having to count up the points per question and compare which category of video gamers I belonged to. 

What I also like about the book is that it focuses on Massive-Multiplayer-Online-Role-Playing-Game (MMORPG), specifically World of Warcraft (WoW), which I have played. The author discusses why MMORPGs are more addictive than any other type of game.  He explains that the virtual world continuously rewards those who put time and effort into the game. The longer the commitment, the more rewards a player receives. Also the more you play, the more people will acknowledge you and respect you. There is a “sense of control and empowerment that comes with playing MMOs”. However, this is not the same as the real world, where people are constantly disappointed. People may never receive the promotion they’ve wanted regardless of their efforts and they may never be acknowledged or praised for accomplishments they have done. This partially explains why people prefer to live in the virtual world.

Yet living in a virtual world has consequences. The author believes that VGA should be listed as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, DSM-IV. He cites a study that shows teenagers who play violent games trigger their amygdala which deals with primitive instincts in the brain, whereas, non-violent games will cause more activity to occur in the frontal cortex which is the command of impulse control. Many MMORPGs are rated T for TEENS which contains violent content implying behavioral changes due to these games.

Waite also introduces VGA as a possible disorder by comparing it to other mental disorders listed in the DSM-IV, for example alcoholism and drug abuse. He presents data that show similar brain activities between video game and drug addicts when they need a particular substance. When they have cravings for their addiction, their body releases stress hormones, and when they satiate this hunger the brain releases dopamine providing a pleasurable sensation. Gamers and drug addicts alike continually strive to obtain this feeling.

Though his approach to identifying VGA as a mental disorder is straight forward, I was more interested in finding possible evidence using the I-function we mention numerous times in class. I believe that the I-function stimulates VGA. As stated earlier, gamers play MMORPGs to obtain fame and recognition. Though we have not discussed this in class, I believe that MMORPGs trick the I-function into believing that the video game character is part of itself. This is evident in MMORPGs when players focus on building up one character. They become attached to their character and eventually the character becomes part of themselves. My experiences with WoW provide evidence of this evolution. When I first started playing WoW, I created a Night Elf Druid named “Heisin”. In my early experiences of playing the game I would refer to Heisin as “my druid needs more money” or “my night elf is so cool!” but as I put more time and effort into making him stronger, I slowly transitioned into saying “I need to buy that staff” or “I need to finish this quest”. In worse cases, people who go past this stage end up trying to replace the real world with the virtual one. They strive to obtain status and fame in the game because of their failure to do so in real life. Their I-function causes them to unconsciously refer to their character in the first person and the video game world and reality are meshed together. Ultimately, the I-function will attach itself to the virtual world based on the artificial pleasure it provides, thus making it extremely difficult to quit.

Waite does a thorough job of explaining the problems with VGA and the biological and psychological reasons behind addiction. However, one problem with the book was that Waite’s language was difficult to comprehend. Even as a gamer, I found the terminology confusing at times. Although he does clarify a few video game acronyms, the “lingo” used makes it difficult for the general public to understand the book in its entirety. Therefore, this book is geared towards people who are intellectually aware of VGA, whereas a person who has a minimal understanding of it would not find this book as intriguing.

Overall, I would recommend this book for those who have experienced VGA personally or have known someone who has been addicted to video games. I would also recommend this book for a class similar to Neurobiology and Behavioral Sciences because it raises some interesting questions about the I-function and its role in VGA. However, the vocabulary used can be intimidating to those who are unaware of this epidemic. For this reason, those who have no experience with VGA would most likely not find the book useful.



Plugged In: A Clinicians' and Families' Guide to Online Video Game Addiction 

by Terry R. Waite 


Paul Grobstein's picture

"virtual" and "real" worlds ...

Interesting set of issues. How does one distinguish the "virtual" from the "real"? Or "artificial" from .... ?